Colleen Hannegan

Finding the words....and the perfect pair of glasses.

Aim for the Word

Colleen Hannegan2 Comments

She’s writing about writing. This prize winner of words. It's 4 a.m.and I can’t sleep so I turn on the light and reach for her words keeping their patient vigil on my nightstand. I want to know. How to. All my life I’ve wondered and imagined and only in my 60th year did I publish and throw a launch party and invite others to read my story. A book that took 50 years to live, seven years to bring to light and two years to see it printed.

And I wonder. How to write. Why I want to write and why can’t I let go this inner rumble of words, the feelings of words. Leave me alone. But if they left me, though no one else may ever read them I would be somehow lost.

“The page, the page, the eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch, but touching it nonetheless……"  Annie Dillard. 

I take my hand and lay it on her words and pass it over the entire last page of her chapter four. Imagining my hand and skin and blood and nervous system will absorb and transport and impress upon my magic, brewing word cauldron that never rests, the knowing and vitality of why and how the letters that become words that become sentences that will serve me and save me and keep the Earth on axis allows me to own for myself the getting of it. The yes of it. 

She has talked of the discipline of writing and chopping wood. How they relate and how the wood splitting is so much the word splitting. When you split wood correctly or write words in order, the flame that comes from either warms your body, warms your soul. The similarity is in creating oxygen, to breathe, to carry a flame and heat your room, home, heart.

“……..because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut, the page in its purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write………”

My 10,000 pages. Surely my scribbles and stops and starts, my poems and essays and morning musings and countless journals, my articles others have paid me to write and the so many others no one wanted; my book and its words, chapters, drafts and rewrites, the letters have numbered in the millions over these sixty years. Who can claim oneself a writer just because she writes? I call myself this and hold the telling of it as though I hold a newborn. With fear and awe, with the powerful and miraculous wonder of being a mother of a child or a book or a painting or a building. A creatrix, an inventor, a magician, alchemist, healer, scientist. Alone in my laboratory adding a pinch of this and that and hoping, praying for the boiling of it.

It’s alive! It’s alive!, I shriek. 

Here on a blank page, at 4am, with the dark shadows hovering as they enjoy doing when the light flickers and invites me to play. With the words.

“…..There is another way of saying this. Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block.”

The words. Finding the right words, any words, some words, a word. Opening up is hard enough, as though each time I must wield my heavy wood ax and myself swing up for momentum and down with swift purpose, poise and strength. And on occasion when confidence appears, it carries with it direct aim and I strike through the words perfectly. And the words bring me some heat and air and comfort. I find the humor then, too. The essence of trickster coyote reminds me at every page numbered that my living and breathing and searching for the right words brings me the hidden joy of it all.

I write because I continue to search the whys and hows. And for those words that do come from time to time with answers. The answers to question I’d forgotten to ask until I present myself before the honest white, and the pulsing, patient, trusting curser.

I take aim.

And always, learning to  laugh at the magical wonder of it all.